Serena xChange 2011: violins, miniskirts and orchestrated IT

Serena Software president and CEO John Nugent kicked off the main section of this Las Vegas located customer/developer show here this week with a thank you to the ‘Bella’ all female electric violin quartet.

Here’s the link if you want to see how the company woke the audience up here. In truth, the violins were there to make a point about application process orchestration, the miniskirts were an optional extra.

So, down to IT — Nugent described the concept of the “IT dilemma” being prevalent among software development shops today, so what’s that?

Disparate unconnected teams, silos of brittle application systems that are badly connected, multi-vendor environments, legacy systems, badly annotated software change management data, requirements management functions that have never been properly aligned to business processes (let alone business goals and financial objectives), … the list goes on…

No surprise then to hear an ALM (application lifecycle management) focused company talk about all the ‘trouble’ factors that the development and IT operations teams face. Talking about integrating tools and processes puts Serena logically into competition with a big name — IBM.

Serena likes to talk about “Bluewashing”, well, if your biggest competitor is IBM then you would wouldn’t you? You’ll be hard pressed to find any links to this term on the web though. Perhaps now I guess?

So what’s in Serena’s bright and shiny toolbox now? There is Serena Requirements Manager, Development Manager, Business Manager, Request Manager, Release Manager and Service Manager (in no particular order) now comprising the much enhanced “solution” set.

So to Serena Business Manager (SBM), this is a tool which the company says has been adopted by 1600 customers to date and used to develop 10,000 applications so far. With SBM applications are “composed visually”, from which point they can then be integrated fully into an appropriate ERP system such as might be provided from Oracle or SAP for instance.

“Serena has made the move from ALM into IT operations,” CEO Nugent proudly asserts.

His company’s tools now boast the ability to handle “release control” plus with an appreciation for “release automation”, so that a “release calendar” function for major, minor and emergency releases now exists… Serena also extends onward to process controls which help to accommodate for workflow notifications and audit trails as they are needed on an ongoing basis.

Of all the company’s web site product info, this paragraph is among the most defining, “From requirements management to issue and defect tracking, incident management, change request management and release management, IT organisations use SBM to deliver new products and services on time and within budget by automating and optimising delivery lifecycle processes. IT service management. By leveraging SBM in lieu of the highly complex, inflexible and expensive packaged applications of old, [Serena can] deliver tailored processes that aid with service desk management, asset management and infrastructure provisioning.”

But if Serena is the self-proclaimed “Titan of ALM” — can the company really cross the chasm into operations (ops) as a ALM company… and so evolve into a full-scale “end to end” top tier IT player as it says it will?

According to Serena’s marketing division, “We believe this is what is needed for IT — i.e. an orchestrated joining of apps and ops as release cycles are now so rapid — and given the fact that IT operations (of which ITSM is a piece) needs to be reengineered within the new “application evolution” (i.e. a world where the new speed of development driven by mobile devices and web apps is just so darn fast now), which in and of itself is helping to drive the popularity of Agile methodology.”

Does Serena have the pedigree for this? Its spokespeople openly state, “What IT needs to do in ops, we have already done in apps.”

So why is the term “orchestration” so important?

Isn’t that just marketing-speak for “connected work flows and process” really? No says Serena, it is (and I quote carefully) “a fundamental architectural approach that has at its core process automation”, so that what can be automated should be automated.

During the show, Serena asked its audience who among the crowd still does requirements management by hand (and a lot of hands went up) — and “by hand” Serena means dumping data into standard “productivity applications” such as Word and Excel. What Serena advocates is more automated, managed approach using tools that can capture and manage… Automation then, should also thoroughly embrace release management, now the reality is that some development shops will need to perform releases as often a more than a hundred times a month in some scenarios.

These are not Serena’s words — but Facebook is rumoured to “release” (in some arm or division or other) every 20 minutes. Release management then is a cash cow, a market ripe for the plundering (sorry, that should be “leveraging for optional profit”) and Serena is out for the win.

So why does Serena think it has the USP here?

The problem of addressing release management is real. The difficulty is that developers think it’s the operations team’s fault — but the operations team thinks that it’s the developer’s fault. According to Serena, the truth is that it’s both.